Wednesday, May 28, 2014

David Howarth on the changes the Liberal Democrats must make

David Howarth, who was MP for Cambridge between 2005 and 2010 before giving up his parliamentary career to return to academia, is the party's most impressive intellectual. His introduction to Reinventing the State comes nearer than anything I have read to express a coherent Lib Dem philosophy.

You can find it on the Social Liberal Forum website under the title "What is Social Liberalism?" and it is well worth reading.

But what I want to blog about here is something David had written today on Liberal Democrat Voice: What does the evidence tell us about our strategy should be?

The evidence he refers to is the findings of the British Election Study, which was published on 7 May.

As David points out, Lib Dem strategy since we entered the Coalition has been centred on two hopes: that the economy would come right and that voters would give us the credit for this.

What do the findings of the study tell us about the likelihood of this strategy coming good? David writes:
The answers are very unhelpful for our current strategy. Optimistic voters think – by over 5 to 1 – that we are not responsible for the conditions that give rise to their optimism. In contrast, those same optimists think the Conservatives can claim credit for the coming economic improvement by a majority of 4 to 1. 
If one looks at crucial subgroups of voters, such as electors who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 but have moved to Don’t Know (more than a fifth of our 2010 vote), the situation is nearly as bad: a 4 to 1 majority against giving us credit and a majority of 4 to 3 in favour of giving the Conservatives credit.
The problem here, as David points out, is that the argument that austerity has led to recovery is an inherently Conservative point of view so, not surprisingly, it is the Conservatives who get the credit for it.

David concludes: "As an electoral strategy this looks hopeless, even irrational."

Most of the debate following the Lib Dem debacle in the local and Euro elections has centred on the leadership.

I am not Nick Clegg's greatest fan, but the only conceivable alternative to his leading us at the next general election was a Vince Cable caretaker leadership.

Today's events have made that much less likely, so it the strategy that must change. And David Howarth says the British Election Study has some important lessons for us:
What are the views, for example, of voters who have a high propensity to vote for us but who are not voting for us now? By more than 2 to 1 they favour redistribution of income, by 3 to 1 they are for greater environmental protection and by 8 to 1 they oppose further privatisation of public services.
In short, potential Lib Dem voters believe in the policies the party has traditionally stood for. Over to you, Nick.


Eddie Sammon said...

Hi Jonathan. The problem is the survey doesn't ask what would make current Lib Dem voters switch to the Conservatives. I imagine the answers would be much of the same.

By all means argue to move left, but bringing figures into it just gets into a data argument.


Anonymous said...

Believing that being a junior party in government build credibility has been disproven by the FDP in Germany. They followed the same strategy as Clegg and were wiped out. The strategy only has a chance of working if the junior party leader is very well known and widely respected. Maybe it could have worked with an Ashdown or a Jenkins. It doesn't work with Clegg as he is so widely disliked.

Paul McKeown said...

The "bringing figures into it" comment is beyond parody. Without data and analysis all that remains is emotion, or worse, bloviation.